‘The Place Beyond the Pines’: Greco-Biblical Epic in Neo-Noir Clothing

Warning: This article contains spoilers and is intended mainly for those who have already seen the film.

“The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons” (Exodus 34:7). Were this the only subtext in Derek Cianfrance’s multigenerational saga of twisted fate and broken dreams, The Place Beyond the Pines might be taken simply as an updating of Elia Kazan 1953 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s modern-day reworking of the Cain and Abel tale, East of Eden. Instead, this densely packed film manages to stitch together the Tanakh and Greek myth and tether both to a modern-day crime drama set in an American burg beneath whose idyllic exterior, a la Hitchcock (and Freud), reside swine. Schenectady, New York, provides the serenely sinister backdrop—a name that instantly conjures Charlie Kaufman’s solipsistic brain-twister with the devilishly allusive title Synecdoche, New York (2008). The result is a neo-noir with more cinematic panache and multi-layered resonance than any since Roman Polanski/Robert Towne’s magisterial Chinatown (1974). Continue reading “‘The Place Beyond the Pines’: Greco-Biblical Epic in Neo-Noir Clothing” »

‘Gangster Squad’ Gets Away with Murder

Gangster Squad (2013)

Historical fealty has never been Hollywood’s strong suit (as this year’s Oscars crop reminded), and even classic exposés of La La Land such as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential played fast and loose with the facts. But at least these period pieces covered their tracks with allegorical subtext, composited characters, and pseudonyms. Ruben Fleischer’s crime drama Gangster Squad (2013), which shoots holes as wide as the Arroyo Parkway in its realistic backdrop, not only purports to play it straight but flaunts authenticity like nobody’s business.

The bait and switch begins with the opening establishing shot of Los Angeles in 1949, highlighting a seemingly spanking new “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign—indeed, the sign’s original spelling since 1923, when it served as a billboard for a residential development. By 1949, however, literally fallen into disrepair with letters crumbling and keeled over, the sign was renovated and resurrected in its present iconic form. The abridgment expanded the sign’s purview to reflect, and rebrand, the larger Hollywood district, film industry, and frame of mind—all of which were themselves in desperate need of refurbishment due to a disastrous postwar decline in movie attendance and the rise of Las Vegas as a rival nightlife hub to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Continue reading “‘Gangster Squad’ Gets Away with Murder” »

Script Clearance and Research: Unacknowledged Creative Labor in the Film and Television Industry

The importance of script clearance and research to film and television production—from the classic Hollywood era to the present day—has long been uncharted territory for media scholars. Fortunately, UCLA alumnus Michael Kmet has begun thoroughly examining not only the everyday realities of this type of work but also the greater importance that firms such as de Forest Research have had on the overall structure of creative content both past and present. The scope of this project, including a substantial amount of primary research at archives around Los Angeles, requires more than just one researcher, and I am very pleased to state that I will be assisting Michael in the expansion of his already impressive research.

This blog post is an overview of the research Michael has already conducted as well as a discussion of the project’s future trajectory.  I am looking forward to assisting Michael with his fascinating and exciting project, and I will be posting updates to the Mediascape Blog as our research progresses.  —Jessica Fowler

Historically, the world of primetime commercial fictional television has been described as “the producer’s medium.” Since the mid-2000s, for example, television producers of programs as diverse as Gossip Girl (2007–2013), Battlestar Galactica (2003–2009), and Eureka (2006–2012) have recorded online podcasts in which they assume creative responsibility (as well as creative credit) for the television programs they produce.1 However, as many subscribers to the auteur theory of motion picture authorship (especially the kind popularized by the late film critic Andrew Sarris) have discovered, such individualistic conceptions of authorship are problematic when it comes to the collaborative nature of the film and television industry.

To date, little attention has been given to the critical (and, as I will argue, creative) role performed by script clearance and research departments working in both film and television production. Script clearance and research has been the subject of only a handful of newspaper and magazine articles, has been marginalized or totally ignored by popular “making of” books, and has never, as far as I’ve been able to determine, been the subject of a dissertation or an academic essay. The purpose of my project is twofold. First, I want to begin to map out the history of script clearance and research in the film and television industry, focusing on de Forest Research, the most dominant research firm. Second, I want to argue that script clearance and research is an act of fundamentally creative labor, and it should be recognized as such by media scholars. Continue reading “Script Clearance and Research: Unacknowledged Creative Labor in the Film and Television Industry” »